Author Archive

A Small Tribute to “Ai Gu” (Daddy’s Elder Sister)

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

I was just about to get comfortable to study some languages again. Then, I find out my 90-something-year-old aunt died last night. Now, my brain is busy trying to remember something more concrete about her. Most of my memories of her are from my childhood. Those memories are pretty vague. :-(

This is the aunt who in her 80s would go to the casino by herself. (She doesn’t speak much English from what I recall.) A cousin of mine (my aunt is her grandmother) had told me this. My reaction at the time was “That’s just awesome”. :-)

Funny enough, the most concrete memory I have of my aunt (who is my dad’s elder sister) is from my dad’s funeral almost 18 years ago. His funeral hadn’t started yet. People were lingering around, then this lady comes in and starts wailing. It was my aunt. I’m pretty sure she startled both my brother and I. Later, my sister told me my other cousin had to tell my aunt to stop because she was scaring “the children” (lol). My sister then told me that the wailing is a Chinese tradition. Someone had to wail at the funeral so that the Chinese spirits could hear. It usually has to be someone really close to the deceased. Because this was my aunt’s younger brother’s funeral, she fit the role for that well.

Now, I’m wondering who will wail for my aunt.

Another Chinese funeral custom is the burning of “hell money”. This money supposedly pays off any spirits that block the passage of the deceased to the underworld/otherworld. I think it is similar to the Greek tradition of paying the ferryman so that the deceased can cross the river.

I wasn’t especially close to my aunt, but I recall her visiting my mom off and on during my childhood. I wish I knew more about my aunt, my mom, my dad, and my other relatives.  I wish I knew what it was like for them to leave their home country to immigrate to a new country. Language barrier and time seem to be the biggest obstacles in that regard.

It’s funny that when a relative dies, no matter how close you are or not (or how much you liked or disliked that person), you feel like a part of you dies with them. I think it’s the connection to the past and to a history that you never knew about that you end up missing. Next time I’m at my mom’s, I’ll have to get her to dig out her old photo albums. Pictures tell so much and yet so little, but they are better than nothing.

Immersion, interactive, or rules-based learning? What’s best?

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

The following is copy of what I posted in DuoLingo’s discussion section. (See


Every few discussion threads, I keep seeing the topic of how best to learn a foreign language pop up. I think I should post some of my thoughts on this issue.

I think it’s been proven so far that the best way to learn a language is through full immersion. However, even in full immersion programs, they explain grammar rules to the school children. My sister teaches French Immersion to grade school children and they stress grammar rules. I was taught French from grade 4 through high school and also through one year in university (I got placed in the advanced university course). For most of those years, I was learning French in as close to immersion as possible. (The program name was called “Extended French”, “extended” because we also took other classes in French, such as history and geography.) They placed a lot of emphasis on grammar and understanding the structure used for the language (because they wanted the students to be literate as well as able to speak the language).

While it is true that during the earliest stages of life a person picks up their first language via experience, this doesn’t mean that you can’t pick up the grammar rules fairly early, especially once someone reaches school age.

The main reason why some “rule-based learners” would have problems with a language is that they simply have not internalized what they’ve learned yet by repeated exposure to the new material (this is part of why immersion works – repeat exposure). What I’m saying is that it’s good for these types of learners to have some understanding of grammar and structure for the language so that they can stop asking “why?” all the time and then they can sit back and absorb the new material.

I wouldn’t exactly call DuoLingo’s method of teaching languages on here as “immersion” or even close to it, although it is interactive. In immersion, students don’t focus on translation. They focus on understanding the language in context. The only part of DuoLingo that is like immersion is the exercises with pictures. In my opinion, DuoLingo should use more of those exercises, but they might be worried about being too close to Rosetta Stone’s model. In comparison, Rosetta Stone is ideal if you wish to learn a language through context only.

However, the minute a language student starts to ask “Why?”, I think it’s good that the students gets accurate and detailed answers.

There are also other classes of language learners to consider: those with previous experience in learning a foreign language as well as those who have an academic or linguistic interest in a language. I think these classes of language learners will be more than ready for the “rules”.

All this being said, I think that no language learning tool is valueless. If learning a language is mostly about exposure to it, then having more than one learning tool and different methods of learning is better than not having any at all.

Language Learning – Working on More Languages

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

My recent study list has been mostly languages – Chinese (Hoisanva aka Taishanese), Korean, Spanish, Dutch, Irish, and Russian. I have yet to add German and Japanese to that.  Technically, I’m bilingual as I’m able to speak and understand English and my dialect of Chinese (which is a weird mix of Taishanese and Cantonese due to my parents’ upbringing). I studied French in the past for ten years (though it’s rusty now). When I get around to studying Japanese, it will be my tenth language! :-)

I’ve resigned myself to learning Mandarin Chinese at some point, which is quite different from my Taishanese dialect. Cantonese is very similar, but there is still enough differences to Taishanese to make Cantonese somewhat challenging. If one counts Cantonese and Mandarin separately as languages and not just dialects, I might be able to speak and understand twelve languages. :-o

Some links:
Learn Taishanese
Studying Korean 한국어을 공부해요 – Some Sources for Beginners

Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’ve never read a zombie apocalypse novel, World War Z is the one to read.

The above statement can be considered a little biased since this is the first zombie apocalypse book I’ve read. It’s also maybe a little unfair considering there hasn’t been a huge amount of zombie literature prior to the new millennium (likely the reason why this is the first zombie apocalypse book I’ve read). If the list on Wikipedia is accurate and up-to-date, it appears zombie literature has increased since the new millennium began. There weren’t a lot of contenders for “Best Zombie Apocalypse Novel” prior to the publication of World War Z (Note: I’m not including the various Resident Evil novels because the series didn’t start out from a novel, but are based on the first video game of the same name; Resident Evil also consists of a series of movies. It’s also a little unfair to compare one small book to a whole series about a zombie apocalypse, especially a series as popular as Resident Evil.)

In contrast, there has been a significant amount of zombie films prior to the new millennium. (See “List of zombie films”.) Probably the most influential movies on that list are Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, both written and directed by George A. Romero. Of the two movies, Dawn of the Dead more directly shows the apocalyptic effects of a zombie outbreak. Would it be fair to judge Brooks’ novel against a movie? Perhaps. In fact, Brooks was inspired by George A. Romero’s works (as indicated in Brooks’ “Acknowledgments”: “a final thank-you to… and, of course, the genius and terror of George A. Romero”)

World War Z is written from the perspective that the zombie apocalypse has already happened. That we survived the apocalypse is certain from the very beginning of the book. How did we survive though? What were the key factors that brought about the survival of humanity? Most importantly, what are the feelings of those who survived? In order to answer these questions, Brooks decided that the best way to achieve this was to have each of the various survivors narrate their stories. The format of the novel is not a straight narrative from only one or a few persons. The format of the novel is a compilation of stories, with a little introduction from the person who compiled the stories. The identity of the compiler is never revealed. It’s only revealed that the compiler worked for the “United Nations Postwar Commission Report”, perhaps as an investigator. This is intentional though. Since the novel is written from the perspective that the zombie apocalypse already happened and that the most important stories are those of the survivors, there is no need for the reader to know more about the compiler of the stories. As written in the chapter, “Introduction”:

This is their book, not mine, and I have tried to maintain as invisible a presence as possible… I have attempted to reserve judgment, or commentary of any kind, and if there is a human factor that should be removed, let it be my own.

Since the compiler could not have the bulk of the survivors stories in the report’s final edition, a separate book was published where he did not have to remove the “human factor” in the survivors’ narratives.

The compilation of the narratives was then divided into sections, which are essentially the chapters in the novel. Thus, the novel starts with “Introduction” followed by “Warnings” and ending with “Good-byes”. “Introduction” gives the reader a bit of background into the compiler of the narratives as mentioned above, but also serves to give the reader a bit of background to the world after the zombie apocalypse. The chapters “Warnings” through to “Good-byes” give the reader the flow of the overall narrative of the story. We first read about the beginnings, then the mass panic followed by narratives detailing how people resisted becoming one of the infected, and then how the apocalypse ended and humanity survived.

As for writing style, each survivors’ narrative is presented like a journal article with an introductory blurb placed before the narrative. The blurb introduces the survivor as well as gives some background to the narrative which follows it. The narratives are first person accounts of what the survivor experienced during the zombie apocalypse.

The format and writing style of World War Z may put off some readers, but frankly it works. It works well. In fact, each account reminds me of various human rights journal articles or accounts from people who have lived in some of the countries currently under strife. If you wanted to write a story and make the reader believe the events already happened, this is the format and style to take. Some may think it’d be hard to read a novel with too many narratives, but I found it quite easy to read from one narrative to the next. At the end of each narrative, I found myself wondering what the next account would be about.

This format for the novel also presents the reader with not just one story, but many smaller ones. You’ll read about a doctor in China, a soldier in Vermont, a computer geek in Japan, and various others. Each narrative isn’t random, however. Each narrative helps to explain the overall story and there are interconnecting threads between various narratives. Each individual story helps make up the whole.

While reading World War Z, I felt as if one had taken key pieces out of every other zombie story ever told as well as key pieces out of every apocalypse story every told. Brooks has thought through a lot of scenarios that someone may have to face in the event of an apocalypse or global war. He’s also thought about how various social groups might react. I felt that Brooks either did a lot of research or just knew much about different world cultures. For example, he describes the Japanese kami as well as the disparity between China’s city-folk and village-folk. Also, I thought Brooks described the political scenarios quite accurately.

Some may pick fault with Brooks for not having an explanation in the novel for the zombie outbreak, but I think this may be realistic. It takes a while to determine the origins of a disease. Some may recall when A.I.D.S. was first discovered. People were infected with a disease, but doctors didn’t know exactly why the people were being infected. “In the early days, the CDC did not have an official name for the disease, often referring to it by way of the diseases that were associated with it…” (See “HIV/AIDS”.) Later, it was called A.I.D.S. World War Z is less about providing an explanation for zombies, but more about the human spirit to survive.

To sum up World War Z, I’d say it has heart, brains, and brawn – all of which are required for humanity to survive.

(Note: Some readers may be wondering, so I thought I’d address this now. Yes, I read this book before watching the movie version. In fact, this book has been lying on my bookshelf for a good while before the movie was announced. When it comes to movies based on books, I prefer to read the book first because I like to know what the original creator of the story intended. After, I will review a movie based on other factors than for a book. This is simply because movies and books while both intending on telling a story do so in different ways. They are different mediums, and therefore have different techniques and methods for telling a story and for being artistic. That being said, I did watch World War Z and the jury is still out. There’s supposed to be a sequel later, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens in it.)

My site: feyMorgaina.

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Book Review: Fires of Azeroth by C.J. Cherryh

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Fires of Azeroth by C.J. Cherryh is the third book in The Morgaine Saga omnibus. In this story, Morgaine and Vanye travel to a world where Qhal and Man co-exist peacefully. However, Morgaine and Vanye are pursued by their enemies from the previous story and it’s only a matter of time before their enemies bring disaster to this peaceful world where Morgaine and Vanye have taken refuge. Morgaine has not forgotten her mission though. However, this peaceful world has a few secrets of its own.

While Fires of Azeroth isn’t the ultimate conclusion to Morgaine’s mission, it concludes Vanye’s story. Indeed, The Morgaine Saga is much more about Vanye’s personal quest and development than about Morgaine’s mission. If anything, Morgaine’s mission allows Vanye’s character to grow. The fact that Morgaine’s mission has not yet been completed might be the reason why nearly ten years later C.J. Cherryh wrote a fourth novel, Exile’s Gate, for the series.

Overall, The Morgaine Saga is an interesting read. There is more sense of completion having read all the books in the omnibus than just the first novel. The only criticism I have is that Morgaine’s universe feels quite empty. I realize this may be because she is travelling through the Gates in order to close or destroy them, but I keep wondering why she ends up on worlds that have very little or no advanced technology besides the Gates and items related to the Gates. Cherryh does a decent job of character-building in this series, but I think that there could be more world-building. I also wonder what’s happening back at the Union Science Bureau.

In any case, I’m not sure if I’m going to read Exile’s Gate. I wanted to read this omnibus since it was Cherryh’s early writing. The other novels written in the same time period are Brothers of Earth and Hunter of Worlds. I, however, am wanting to get back to her Alliance-Union Universe with the novel Merchanter’s Luck.

For my review of Gate of Ivrel, see “Book Blog”.
For my review of Well of Shiuan, see “Book Blog”.

Review: Gormenghast

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gormenghast is the sequel to Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan. Titus Groan is the 77th Earl of Gormenghast. In Gormenghast, we follow Titus’ upbringing starting from the age of seven. Titus was age two at the end of Titus Groan; thus, some time has elapsed between novels. Gormenghast starts out by accounting for those who died in the previous novel and those who are still living. At this point, everyone in the novel is still unaware as to who the mastermind is behind the tragedies in the previous novel. Life continues on in Gormenghast, but with this eerie feeling that something tragic might happen again.

I read Titus Groan back in 2008. I started Gormenghast afterwards simply because I was curious about what would happen to Titus Groan. It took me quite a while to finish Gormenghast simply because I kept getting bored early on. Even after finishing the novel, I’m still not entirely sure how important some of the passages were. Indeed, some of the characters aren’t even integral to the conclusion of the story. Yet despite this criticism, there’s something to be said for Peake’s writing. It’s brilliant. When you’re not bored by wondering why you’re reading about this character and what’s his importance, you can get quite lost in Peake’s writing. Obviously, it’s easier to do when you’re reading about a character you’re interested in (i.e., Titus Groan) or when reading about the main plot (“got to catch that villain”). As I wrote previously, “I think I am still wrapping my head around the gothic eeriness of Mervyn Peake’s story.” (See “Book Nook”) Towards the end of the novel, you get a good sense of Titus Groan. He is a tragic character in a way. Although he’s lived through tragedies, it’s clear they have an impact on him emotionally.

The final novel in this trilogy is Titus Alone. At first I thought I would read the whole trilogy, but I’m not sure about the final novel. Gormenghast did seem to drag a little in some places, and that makes me hesitant to read the third novel. I think it will just depend on how much I want to find out what happens next to Titus Groan.

For my review of Titus Groan, see “Recently Read and Currently Reading”.

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Review: Star Wars Allegiance

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Star Wars  Allegiance
Star Wars Allegiance by Timothy Zahn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars: Allegiance tells the story of a young Mara Jade and the desertion of five stormtroopers. Mara Jade is serving Emperor Palpatine as the Emperor’s Hand, comparable to James Bond’s role as a secret service agent. Mara Jade is still young though – only eighteen. She is idealistic and somewhat naive (especially in regards to the Emperor).

Daric LaRone is one of the five stormtroopers who desert. He has started to question whether the Empire actually cares about its citizens. Four other stormtroopers desert with him after LaRone’s altercation with an ISB (Imperial Security Bureau) officer. Like Mara Jade, the five stormtroopers are idealistic.

This story takes place after the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, but before The Empire Strikes Back. During this story, Luke does not yet know that Darth Vader is his father. Luke also does not know that Leia is his sister (on whom he seems to have a crush, at least from Han Solo’s perspective). Luke has not yet visited Yoda, but is carrying his lightsaber at his side (this is important since as far as most people know, the Jedi were wiped out; the only person known to wield a lightsaber is Darth Vader, as well as the Emperor’s Hand, according to rumours). Han Solo has not fully committed to the Rebel Alliance, although he’s agreed to help out with their mission in this story. Leia is still working with the Rebel Alliance and in this novel is attempting to recruit another world to their cause. Leia’s home world, Aldaraan, has been destroyed.

The location in this story is Shelsha sector, Luke and Han are sent there to investigate raids on the Rebel Alliance’s shipments (covert shipments, of course) while Leia is sent to Shelsha sector to meet with its governor in hopes of persuading him to join the Rebel cause. Mara Jade is sent to Shelsha sector to investigate its governor, while the five stormtroopers happen to be in that sector after deserting. LaRone and the other four stormtroopers are trying to stay hidden, but find they can’t help getting involved when citizens are attacked by swoop gangs and raiders. Darth Vader is obsessively trying to find Luke, and ends up in Shelsha sector as well. Considering the scenarios, it isn’t surprising to the reader that some of the main characters eventually meet up with each other.

Like his previous Star Wars novels, Zahn skillfully weaves together multiple plotlines. He never gets bogged down with explaining the different plotlines, and consequently keeps a fast pace to the story.

One key reason to read this Star Wars novel is to get a glimpse of Mara Jade while she was serving the Emperor. She’s smart and sassy, but somehow very loyal to the Emperor. When Zahn created the character of Mara Jade, it could have been easy for him to simply write her as a female Jedi, in contrast to Luke; or as a female Sith, in contrast to Darth Vader. Interestingly, she isn’t either of those. Mara Jade’s role is significantly different than Darth Vader’s. While Vader is busy force-choking his enemies, Mara Jade is cleverly finding ways to implicate her targets. In contrast to Luke, Mara Jade sees killing her opponent as a potential necessity. Luke would rather not kill anyone – ever. Recall who actually does kill the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi. In this comparison, Mara Jade is hardly naive – Luke is. Mara Jade is only naive when it comes to the Emperor, which can be explained easily when the Emperor is considered to be Mara Jade’s surrogate father. (Though, when Mara Jade and Luke finally meet, the score might be more even. At that point, it’s Mara Jade the Smuggler, who is probably more of a female Han Solo.)

Star Wars: Allegiance is an exciting read. It’s another Timothy Zahn story worthy of the name Star Wars.

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Book Blog

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Book blog time again.

I still need to get into the habit of writing a book review right after I read a book.

I finally got around to finish reading China: Its History and Culture by W. Scott Morton and Charlton M. Lewis. It’s a good overview of the history of China. I picked up this book for two reasons. One was for the overview of key events in China’s history. The second reason was because I wanted to know how the history affected Chinese culture. For each era (or dynasty, in most of the cases), this book does a good job of presenting key historic events and discussing aspects of the culture. The only drawback to this book is that the second half of the book is devoted to events in the 20 century leading up to the new millennium. This might have been unavoidable though since we know more about recent historic events than we do about events in the distant past. Overall though, this book gives the reader a good idea of how China came to be the country it is today. After finishing this book, the reader should have a good sense of the character of China.

As for fiction, below is a list of books I read recently:

Circus of the Damned by Laurell K. Hamilton
Well of Shiuan (as part of The Morgaine Saga omnibus) by C.J. Cherryh
Spell of the Witch World by Andre Norton (consists of three short stories – “Dragon Scale Silver”, “Dream Smith”, “Amber Out of Quayth”)

Circus of the Damned is Hamilton’s third novel in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. Once again, Anita Blake has to stave off a supernatural threat. Like her first two Anita Blake novels, this story moves at a good pace. Hamilton keeps the story moving and there’s loads of action and excitement. Of course, Anita solves the case by the end of the novel, but does she solve any of her own issues? Not quite. Circus of the Damned is another enjoyable read for those who love the urban fantasy genre. As part of a series, it will be interesting to see how the character Anita Blake develops.

Well of Shiuan by C.J. Cherryh is the sequel to Gate of Ivrel. In Well of Shiuan, the two main characters, Morgaine and Vanye, travel to a world facing annihilation (by flooding). It turns out to be directly caused by events in the past, in which Morgaine was involved. Determined to finish her mission to close all the Gates, Morgaine continues to deal with the consequences of her past actions. Meanwhile, Vanye has to learn that he can’t save everyone and that each person has his/her own destiny.

Spell of the Witch World is classic Andre Norton. If you’re a fan of classic fantasy (that is, swords and sorcery), Andre Norton is highly recommended. Somehow Norton is able to engage the reader in even the simplest of stories. “Dragon Scale Silver” is about a sister who, after having a premonition of her brother heading into danger, decides to rescue him herself. “Dream Smith” is a cute tale about a deformed blacksmith who crafts a dream world for him and the frail young woman with whom he is enamoured. Lastly, “Amber Out of Quayth” tells the story of how a woman escapes the prison of her arranged marriage.

Training Blog (as of May 9, 2013)

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Running, 1 mile

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ran to the gym, half mile
Cycling 20 minutes 7.3 miles 120 calories
Chin-ups (military – overhand; counterweight) 50
Parallel pull-ups (counterweight) 50
Dips (counterweight) 40
Lateral pull-down 62.5
Seated leg curl 52.5 each leg
Decline leg press 90
Squats 90
Chest press 8/8 (dumbbells)
Pectoral fly 8/8 (dumbbells)
Rear deltoids 8/8 (dumbbells)
Shoulder press 10/10 (dumbbells)
Front shoulder lifts 10/10 (dumbbells)
Bicep curls 10/10 (dumbbells)
Wrist strengthening 12/12 (right arm weaker)
Wrist twirls 12/12
Pushups set of 15
Ran most of the way home

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Stayed home. I did a few exercises with the weights I have at home. I need to buy a pair of 8 pounds dumbbells and a pair of 12 pounds.
Rear deltoids 5/5 (dumbbells)
Lateral raise 5/5 (dumbbells)
Shoulder press (machine) 10/10 (dumbbells)
Front shoulder lifts 5/5 (dumbbells)
Bicep curls 10/10 (dumbbells)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Running, half mile to the gym
Cycling 20 minutes 7.26 miles 121 calories
Seated leg curl 52.5 each leg
Running 1 mile, then headed home
(I got to the gym late. I forgot it closes an hour and a half earlier than on Mondays through Thursdays. I did some exercises at home after.)
Rear deltoids 5/5 (dumbbells)
Lateral raise 5/5 (dumbbells)
Shoulder press 10/10 (dumbbells)
Front shoulder lifts 10/10 (dumbbells)
Bicep curls 10/10 (dumbbells)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Running, covered 1 mile and then a bit extra
Later, did a long walk downtown for a sushi buffet!
(I ended up getting weird muscles cramps in my foot that night after I feel asleep. It’s been a while since I ran or even walked that much. LOL. I had a cramp in my shin while the muscles at the bottom of my foot was cramped. I couldn’t point my toes, but I had to push my foot forward – think of the foot position while wearing high heels. The cramping went away after a little while of careful massaging. Then later, I had a Charlie Horse in the other leg. LOL… really did not get enough exercise prior to that day.)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Running, half mile out, then half mile back home

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Running, half mile to the gym
Cycling 20 minutes 7.3 miles 97 calories
Chin-ups (military – overhand; counterweight) 50
Pull-ups (underhand; counterweight) 50
Parallel pull-ups (counterweight) 50
Dips (counterweight) 40
Lateral pulldown 60
Seated leg curl 52.5 each leg
Hip adductor 100
Hip abductor 90
Decline leg press 90
Squats 90
Chest press 8/8 (dumbbells)
Pectoral fly 8/8 (dumbbells)
Rear deltoids 8/8 (dumbbells)
Lateral raise 8/8 (dumbbells)
Shoulder press 10/10 (dumbbells)
Front shoulder lifts 10/10 (dumbbells)
Bicep curls 12/12 (dumbbells)
Wrist strengthening 12/12 (right arm weaker)
Wrist twirls 12/12
Back strengthening (weighted) 25
Leg lifts set of 24
TKD – poomsae and some kicks (back kicks)
(Unfortunately, I irritated my meniscus tear by doing a tornado kick. My fault though. I should have checked that my kicking alignment was correct. The knee and the ankle should always be aligned with each other. The problem I have is that my knee sometimes drifts inward during the kick. I think this is a natural tendency in that leg. I seem to recall ice skating that way when I was a kid. If only I knew to fix that back then. In any case, I’ll fix this by slowly doing the roundhouse kick motion until the muscles in my leg remembers the correct alignment again. This has happened before and like before it’s easily corrected.)